By Thomas Nybo
TBILISI, Georgia, 29 June 2005 - It's hard to believe, but just three years ago, young Lela Gabisonia was homeless and begging on the street, behaving aggressively, and barely able to communicate. Now ten years old, Lela is flourishing at a shelter for street children in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, called Sparrows. It's run by a local non-governmental organization (NGO), Child and Environment, with help from UNICEF.
Lela lives at Sparrows with 33 other children and receives counselling, education and medical care, as well as a warm bed every night. There’s a team of professionals, including a doctor and a psychologist, who look after the children's needs. A lawyer is also available to educate the children and their parents about children’s rights with regard to the courts and police. Nearly 300 street children have directly benefited from the shelter's programs.
“I like my life here. We always have a lot of activities. Next month, we’re giving a concert where I'll be playing a singing turtle!” says Lela.
About 2,500 children in Georgia have turned to the street to earn money either by begging or prostituting themselves. They are extremely vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. Additionally, life on the streets frequently steers children toward alcohol and drug addiction. Often, their parents are prostitutes, alcoholics or drug addicts. When children on the street are unwilling to travel to Sparrows, the NGO sends out a mobile team of social workers.
“The most difficult part of my job is trying to convince a child you actually want to help them - that you are doing your best to meet THEIR needs,” says Nana Lashvili, president of Child and Environment.
At Sparrows, children are taught everything from drama and singing, to computers and sewing. They not only come to enjoy childhood, but they leave with the skills needed to find a job once they become adults. Results may take time, but children like Lela show how quickly children can flourish when given the proper care and encouragement.
10, June 2005:
UNICEF-supported shelter brings children in off the streets in Georgia